Monday, August 29, 2005

Dennett States it Plain

Yesterday's New York Times carried this excellent op-ed from Daniel Dennett. I especially liked this part:

Instead, the proponents of intelligent design use a ploy that works something like this. First you misuse or misdescribe some scientist's work. Then you get an angry rebuttal. Then, instead of dealing forthrightly with the charges leveled, you cite the rebuttal as evidence that there is a “controversy” to teach.

Note that the trick is content-free. You can use it on any topic. “Smith's work in geology supports my argument that the earth is flat,” you say, misrepresenting Smith's work. When Smith responds with a denunciation of your misuse of her work, you respond, saying something like: “See what a controversy we have here? Professor Smith and I are locked in a titanic scientific debate. We should teach the controversy in the classrooms.” And here is the delicious part: you can often exploit the very technicality of the issues to your own advantage, counting on most of us to miss the point in all the difficult details.

William Dembski, one of the most vocal supporters of intelligent design, notes that he provoked Thomas Schneider, a biologist, into a response that Dr. Dembski characterizes as “some hair-splitting that could only look ridiculous to outsider observers.” What looks to scientists - and is - a knockout objection by Dr. Schneider is portrayed to most everyone else as ridiculous hair-splitting.

Exactly right.


At 11:39 AM, Blogger Roshi said...

Dennett has it right, and there's a lesson in it. Without a controversy (and, needless to say, no facts), ID proponents have no firepower.

So there's a 'right answer', and it's a variation on the old bromide, "that statement doesn't dignify an answer". I recommend, "There is no controversy."

It's factual. There isn't a controversy. It puts the burden of proof on the ID antagonist. It renders the antogonist's attempt to spark an artificial controversy feckless. And (and I shouldn't enjoy this as much as I do), if the ID antagonist fires back, then the scientist can turn the tables on him in exactly the same way:

ID: "Smith's work in geology supports my argument that the earth is flat."
Smith: "There is no controversy about the shape of the earth."
ID: "Sure there is. What about the writings of Dr. Goober? What about the writings of Dr. Jihad?"
Smith: "Your examples serve to prove my point, not yours. There is no controversy. Please cite someone with solid, accepted empirical facts."

This approach, admittedly, flies in the face of good scientists' tendency for open inquiry. This tendency can be reserved for that scientist's serious collegues, while adopting the above approach when the playing field needs a little levelling.

We all know that ID proponents won't hesitate to play "Ad Hominem Attack". Can you blame them? - it's about all they've got, but two can play here too:

Smith: "Discovery Institute? With the list of 400 scientists?"
ID: Yes.
Smith: "And 700+ who requested to be removed from it?"

Anytime an ID antagonist wants to deal at the level of credible science, switch hats and give them their due respect. As long as they're playing tawdry politics, well, two can play that game, and should.

This serves a secondary purpose. Remember, ID wants to muddy the deliniation between Science and Poly Sci. This approach keeps that edge keen. It says, fight science with science, fight politics with politics, and fight a carefully-crafted psychological cheapshot with a better one.

At 3:40 PM, Blogger Bob Davis said...

I liked the part about the alien designers and the monkeys. That was my favorite part.

At 9:42 PM, Blogger Jeffrey Augustine said...

I found the debate between creation and evolution so ultimately futile that I articulated a cosmology that depends upon neither to explain the orgins of the universe.

My alternative to creation and evolution is based upon a logical paradox and high energy physics. Once you understand the alternative it is extremely logical.

Like so many others, I reject Christian ID as a Christian attempt to repackage Biblical Creationism. There are other ways to explain intelligence and design and they do not require the intellectually dishonest attempt of Christian ID.

If Christians were honest they would defend Creationism instead of coding it in language in an attempt to shoehorn Genesis into the classroom and to trick people who do not know about the intellectual dishonesty and sleight-of-hand behind Christian ID.

In any case, I articulated my alternative cosmology to offer people intellectual freedom from the "either/or" that the debate between creation and evolution attempts to force people into. One does not have to choose sides and in fact can skip the entire debate.

At 9:49 PM, Blogger Jeffrey Augustine said...

Jason, I offer you a free PDF copy of my book for your consideration, Please contact me via my blog if you want the free copy.

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